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Field Marshal The Right Honourable Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO (17 November 1887–24 March 1976) was a British Army officer, most noted for his involvement in World War II and often referred to as "Monty".

Early life and World War I service

Montgomery was born in London in 1887. After graduating from St Paul's School and the Royal Military College Sandhurst, he joined the 1st Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1908, first seeing service in India. The First World War began in August 1914 and he moved to France with his regiment that month. He saw service during the retreat from Mons and was severely wounded during the First Battle of Ypres on 13 October 1914 while taking part in an attack against the German-held village of Meteren. He was awarded the DSO for his actions. After recovering in early 1915, he was promoted to Brigade Major and returned to the Western Front in early 1916, taking part in, among others, the Battle of the Somme. He participated in a number of other engagements throughout the war, eventually finishing the war, after a number of other appointments, as General Staff Officer 1, ranked as a colonel, in the 47th (2nd London) Division.

In 1921 Montgomery was appointed as a staff officer to a brigade stationed in Cork, the most bitterly contested region in the Anglo-Irish War. A cousin of Montgomery's had been killed by the IRA in 1920 and his family estate was located in County Donegal, an area also affected by the conflict. He did not try and exact revenge however and his methods were never as brutal as those of his contemporary in Cork, Arthur Percival. On his arrival in Cork he urged units of his brigade that their "behaviour must be beyond reproach" although later, after futile attempts to locate and destroy IRA units, he stated that it "never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt". Despite this he earned the respect of his enemies and the IRA officer Tom Barry said that he "behaved with great correctness". Montgomery increasingly came to see the conflict as one that could not be won, and withdrawal of British forces as the only feasible solution. In 1923 Montgomery wrote that "the only way way therefore was to give them (the Irish) some form of self-government and let them squash the rebellion themselves".

After the First World War ended, many promising young officers who had gained higher brevet rank during the war were reduced to their substantive ranks, and Montgomery returned to the 1st Royal Warwickshires in 1925 as a company commander, or captain. Montgomery now had to rise up the ranks once more. He married Elizabeth Carver in 1927 and eventually became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Royal Warwickshires battalion in 1931, seeing service in Palestine, Egypt, and India. He was promoted to Colonel and became an instructor at the Indian Army Staff College in Quetta, India. Montgomery did, as was usual, maintain links with the Royal Warwickshires, taking up the honorary position of Colonel-of-the-Regiment in 1947. He became commanding officer of the 9th Brigade in 1937. The year also saw tragedy for him when his wife, Elizabeth Carver, died after contracting an illness. He was promoted to Major-General the following year, taking command of the 8th Division in Palestine.

World War II

Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, two days after Hitler had invaded Poland. At the time, Montgomery had only just recently taken command of the 3rd Division and he and his division deployed to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The Germans began their invasion of the Low Countries on 8 May 1940 and the BEF eventually withdrew to Dunkirk where Operation Dynamo -- the evacuation of the BEF and French forces to Britain -- began on 26 May. Montgomery was placed in command of II Corps during the evacuation and he was part of over 330,000 British and French troops that were successfully evacuated from Dunkirk by the time the operation ended on 4 June.

North Africa and Italy

He was promoted Lieutenant-General shortly after his return to Britain, and after appointments in various capacities in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was persuaded by Alan Brooke to appoint Montgomery commander of the British Eighth Army in the North African campaign in August 1942 after Churchill's own preferred candidate, Gott was killed flying back to Cairo.

Montgomery's peremptory assumption of command of Eighth Army was deeply resented by Auchinleck and his departing staff. Taking command two days earlier than authorized by Auchinleck, on 13 August 1942, he ordered immediate reinforcements of the vital heights of Alam Halfa and joined the army and air headquarters together in a single operating unit.

Montgomery also managed to improve the morale of the 8th Army quickly, but at the expense of denigrating his predecessor, Auchinleck. Montgomery's dismissive and occasionally insulting attitude to others often soured opinions about his abilities and personality. He tended to appeal more to the common soldiers under his command than to many of the officers who had more direct dealings with him.

In the battle of Alam Halfa, which began on 31 August 1942, Rommel attempted to penetrate the British front line and encircle the Eighth Army. Forewarned by Enigma decryption of Rommel's plans, this was defeated in a defensive engagement and Rommel's attempted breakthrough was halted with very little gain.

Despite Churchill's dismissal of Auchinleck for being insufficiently aggressive, he allowed Montgomery more time than Auchinleck had asked for to prepare for the offensive that started with the Battle of El Alamein. Montgomery was a strong proponent of detailed planning and training of his troops and was also given more armour than Auchinleck had received.

By 23 October, the largest British artillery barrage of the Second World War started, Montgomery was confident he would win—but by a ruthless battle of tactical surprise and then gradual mutual attrition, rather than by manoeuvre. By 2 November, Rommel was wanting retreat, but Hitler, ordered a 'victory or death' stand. It was ignored as German units fled, leaving more than 30,000 infantry to surrender.

Montgomery was knighted and promoted to full general. Montgomery's subsequent slow but steady advance did not impress, but gave the Allies an indication that the tide of war had really turned in North Africa. Montgomery kept the initiative, applying superior strength as and when it suited him, forcing Rommel out of each successive defensive position. When Montgomery encountered fiercer frontal opposition than he had anticipated at Mareth, he was forced to switch his major effort into an outflanking inland pincer, backed by low-flying RAF fighter-bomber support in a demonstration of British blitzkrieg. This was a harbinger of what ground forces could achieve when working in real tandem with co-operative airforces.

This campaign demonstrated the battle-winning ingredients of morale, co-operation of all arms including the air weapon, first-class logistical back-up and clear-cut orders and is Montgomery's legacy to modern field command.

Although Montgomery managed to recast plans for the invasion of Sicily, which was conquered in five weeks, inter-allied tensions grew as the American commanders, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Clark took umbrage at Montgomery's attitudes and boastfulness. They resented him, while accepting his skills as a general.

Montgomery continued to command Eighth Army during the landings on the mainland of Italy itself. Shortly thereafter he was recalled to the UK to take part in planning Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Montgomery assumed command of 21st Army Group before the Normandy invasion and commanded that formation for the rest of the war in Europe.

Normandy

During the D-Day invasion, and for several months afterwards, Montgomery commanded all allied ground forces: British, Canadian and American. British troops became bogged down in the northern sector of his command outside the French town of Caen. Montgomery's original plan had him taking Caen within days of the invasion, but it actually took him many weeks to capture this crucial town. This provoked criticism from some Americans but Montgomery had deliberately placed his experienced British and Canadian troops up against the bulk of the armor, including most of the Waffen SS Panzer divisions that were present on the Western Front. Many of the US troops, in contrast, were straight off the boat from training in America, having just completed an Atlantic crossing to be then landed on the Omaha and Utah beaches. Montgomery's persistence, intentionally or not, did manage to pin down the bulk of the German armour around Caen, allowing U.S. General George Patton's 3rd American Army to sweep West then North, capturing many retreating German troops at the 'Falaise Gap'.

Montgomery's performance during the Normandy landings was criticised by many who considered his plans unimaginative and too rigid (which is strange considering the D-Day ground invasion plan was largely of his devising); he was, however, among the few Allied officers aware of Ultra throughout World War II (The British did not give Americans the decoding secrets until 1943) and would have been in possesion of high-level intelligence not known to his critics. Often he would receive decoded German signals before the intended recipent did. The German Wehrmacht high command viewed him as a less dangerous threat as a commander than Patton, considering him habit-ridden and overly cautious. He was most successful with well planned attacks with overwhelming forces, such as at El Alamein. Montgomery's defenders put his caution down that fact that he commanded, for the most part, British and Canadian forces. He was acutely aware that these forces were limited in number and not easily replaced. He could not afford to sacrifice them needlessly. His American counterparts, Bradley and Patton, in contrast, could call upon almost inexhaustible supplies of manpower from the States.

Removal as Ground Forces Commander

Eventually the preponderance of American troops in the European theatre made it a political impossibility for the Ground Forces Commander to be British. Eisenhower himself took over Ground Forces Command while continuing as Supreme Commander, with Montgomery reverting to command of 21st Army Group. Montgomery bitterly resented this change, even though it had been agreed before the D-Day invasion. Winston Churchill had Montgomery promoted to Field Marshal by way of compensation.

Montgomery's tempestuous personality and tactlessness throughout the war nearly led to fissures in the Allied high command. The most notable of these led to adoption by Eisenhower of his strategy of a single thrust to the Ruhr, which manifested itself in Operation Market Garden. Operation Market Garden led to the defeat of the 1st Airborne Division outside Arnhem. When first shown the plans the British Lieutenant General Frederick Browning said, "I think we might be going a bridge too far." However, Montgomery insisted that all his battles ran according to his plans despite evidence to the contrary, even claiming that Arnhem had been a 90% success.

Montgomery was capable of inspiring great loyalty among his staff and his troops. These men defended him with great passion even after the war, as the British historian Richard Holmes discovered when he was critical of Montgomery. However, he also inspired considerable dislike amongst those, perhaps more traditional, British officers, who did not like his self promoting attitudes and boastful manner and found his personality distasteful.

On January 7, 1945 Montgomery held a press conference in which he downplayed the role of the American generals in the Allied victory at the Battle of the Bulge. This caused some degree of controversy, and resentment from Americans who felt that Montgomery held back his forces too long.

Later life and controversy

After the war, Montgomery was created 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in 1946. His reputation was tarnished over two decades after his death by evidence of racism with the 1999 revelation of previously secret papers from 1947-1948 when he held the position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff. During that period he was strictly enjoined to silence about his views, which were contrary to British policy, and agents were assigned to vet his public appearances for compliance.

In 1967, Montgomery campaigned against the legalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom arguing that the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was a "charter for buggery" and that "this sort of thing may be tolerated by the French, but we're British - thank God." Ironically, a 2001 book, The Full Monty ISBN 0140283757 by Montgomery's official biographer and long-time friend, Nigel Hamilton, alleged that the general was a "repressed homosexual" who had "quasi love affairs" with numerous young men and boys which fell short of sexual intimacy.[1]

Montgomery died in 1976 and was interred in the Holy Cross Churchyard, Binstead, Hampshire. His portrait (by Frank O. Salisbury, 1945) is in the National Portrait Gallery.

Quotations

"The U.S. has broken the second rule of war. That is, don't go fighting with your land army on the mainland of Asia. Rule One is don't march on Moscow. I developed these two rules myself."

(spoken of the US approach to the Vietnam War) Quoted in Chalfont's Montgomery of Alamein.


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